Nisha Dua is a true girl’s girl. When the former lawyer and Bain consultant joined AOL in 2013 to embrace her love of media and technology, she quickly found herself leading a charge to support young women who were also interested in the space. Now the 34-year-old is co-founder and partner at the AOL-backed BBG Ventures, which invests in female-led companies and has bankrolled some of today’s buzziest brands. Why? Because it’s good business.
Have you always been interested in promoting equality for women in business?
I come from a long line of overachievers, from an academic Indian immigrant family in Australia. Performance was expected. I never grew up feeling that I couldn’t succeed because I was a woman. But when I was working as a lawyer, I saw that there was a difference in how men and women are perceived.
You joined AOL Brand Group as chief of staff for Susan Lyne, who was CEO at the time. Shortly after, you launched the company’s #BuiltByGirls initiative, which aims to get high school girls interested in technology. How did it come about?
I took over Cambio, AOL’s website for millennials. It was very gossipy. We partnered with Girls Who Code to rebuild it into a website “for girls, built by girls.” We enlisted five of their 17-year-olds as interns, and when they started with us, they wanted to blog about the Kardashians. But they left being obsessed with data analytics. Girls have been told they can only be one thing, but you can like the Kardashians and a bunch of other stuff as well.
So that shaped #BuiltByGirls’ mission?
Right. The way I would best explain our work now is, all these young girls use Snapchat, but they don’t realize that there’s a job for them at Snapchat. That’s the circle we’re working to connect.
This year we launched Wave, a mobile program in which we match high school girls with young professionals at companies like Giphy, Spotify and Refinery29. Each girl gets three advisers and meets with them once a month for three months. The concept of mentorship is outdated — it’s no longer enough to have one person shepherd you through your career. You need a community. So a 16-year-old girl meets these three people, and if each of those three people makes two other introductions, she’s got a network of nine people — at 16! That’s a path to your first internship.
In addition to #BuiltByGirls, you also cofounded a venture capital firm that invests in female-led tech startups. Why are women still overlooked?
When we launched, one male VC said to us, “There just aren’t that many female founders.” But the opposite is true — most VCs just don’t see those founders. Women aren’t in their network, or VCs don’t understand their ideas. But female founders drive 63 percent better ROI than male-only led companies. It’s a no-brainer.
What are some recent success stories?
We have 40 companies in our portfolio — Zola, The Wing, Glamsquad — with more than $1 billion in enterprise value. Some people would say, well, all of these are “women’s” ideas, right? But I would just call them businesses for a really big section of consumers! When Susan and I launched the fund, it was never with a do-good intention. We knew we could drive a great return.
There’s nice synergy between your projects.
At BBG Ventures, we’re investing in today’s female founders; at #BuiltByGirls, we’re building the next generation of those founders.